Grief and Shame

randomlychad  —  October 2, 2013 — 12 Comments
'Beach Wail' photo (c) 2007, The Wandering Angel - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

It came to my attention that an acquaintance passed away recently. As someone who was only casually acquainted, I felt sad about this loss. This person was a respected member of the community, but they and I shared no depth of relationship.

As such, as I said, I felt a sadness. But I would be disingenuous if I termed it grief. Who knows? Maybe I’m broken; after all, “no man is an island,” as Donne wrote all those years ago…

Contrast this with the response of another acquaintance, who knew the deceased very well, was indeed friends with this person: they grieved. This wasn’t merely an “oh, that’s sad” reaction, but honest tears welling up from a wonded soul, aching from the loss.

Because they knew the departed.

Even so, and the thing which floored me, was this person seemed full of self-reproach for grieving a very real loss. For not being able to keep a kid on their emotions. They were almost ashamed of the tears which came, and hoped to do better in keeping their feelings in check.

Why is the Western world thus? Why do we feel this need to be in control–to control how we are perceived? Anguish and grief in light of a very real loss is nothing to be ashamed of. Rather, it’s something which makes us human. To which I would add, despite knowing the outcome, in the shortest (yet arguably most poignant) verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept.”

He cried because his friend, Lazarus, felt the sting of death. He cried, despite knowing He would shortly raise him from the dead. It didn’t matter; Jesus grieved.

And if He is at all our example, we would do well to follow it. When we suffer losses, we should likewise grieve–not put a lid on it, pretend it didn’t hurt, keep it under control, berate ourselves… For Christ cried, there is certainly no shame in our tears.

Ah! But we in the West don’t like to feel uncomfortable, or make others feel any discomfiture, do we? It seems the rational West all too often forgets the words of Pascal:

“The heart has its reasons that reason knows not of.”

Reason–rationality–has its place. But we are not merely creatures of cold rationality. We are more: spirit, soul, and body. Mind, will, and emotions. These are meant to work in harmony. Any one exalted, or suppressed, at the expense of the others leads to a life out of balance.

Like the American system of government, these parts of our beings are supposed to provide checks and balances to the others. Feelings don’t necessarily set the course, but they can confirm, or contradict, it. And oftentimes, the most rational course of action isn’t necessarily the most loving. There are things that make sense on paper, but are absolutely terrible to implement.

Like controlling one’s emotions in the face of terrible loss. There is a cost to the soul. Listen, being human means that we are mish-mashed pile of walking, talking contradictions. Hybrid creatures–of earth, and of heaven. It means accepting that we don’t understand ourselves.

It means giving ourselves permission to not be okay. (Kids instinctively know how to do this, until life drives it out of them).

It’s okay to not be okay. To not have it all together. And sometimes that means sitting, undistracted, in discomfort. In that which makes uncomfortable.

Sometimes, the best thing for the soul is a big, ugly cry.

What do you think? Jesus had no problem displaying His emotions–joy, sadness, anger–for all the world to see.
So why do we?

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randomlychad

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Christ-follower, husband, dad, blogger, reader, writer, movie buff, introvert, desert-dweller, omnivore, gym rat. May, or may not, have a burgeoning collection of Darth Vader t-shirts. Can usually be found drinking protein shakes, playing with daughter, working out with his son, or hanging out with his wife. Makes a living playing with computers. Subscribe to RandomlyChad by Email

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  • Western culture (specifically, the American tribe we belong to) seems to have inherited its “keep a stiff upper lip” from its British ancestors, mostly. Men and boys shame one another into keeping such a tight rein on their emotions that we are lucky there are not more crackups. Where we get the idea it is unmanly to cry is likely from movies and books. Thankfully, I’m well enough now to cry when I need to, and the only timetable that’s important enough for me to pay attention to is God’s.

    • Amen, Rick! Well said. His timetable is the one that matters.

  • We have learned a lot as a family about being okay with not being okay all the time. Tough lesson, because so many men I know think less of me as a man for not faking it, and less of me as a father for teaching my boys honesty is more valuable than a fake strong front.

    • Chris, you’re a real man. Honesty trumps posing every day of the week. Good for you. I’m proud to know you.

  • One of your best posts. Learning this more as I age.

    • Thanks, Larry! Me, too--learning as I go. Not an easy lesson.

  • We seem to be self-conscious about being vulnerable. It’s a terrible affliction.

    • Yes, it is. Thanks be to God that Christ has freed us from that.

  • We’ve been conditioned to believe that displaying emotion shows weakness. That’s just a lie. I started tearing up over the dumbest things about the same time that I came back to Jesus — or maybe it’s just my age.

    • Excellent point! And, yes, Jesus has a way of softening the countenance--and the heart.

  • True and deep, Chad. It’s how we were created, and (like other facets of our created nature) we learn to build up immunity to it.

    • Thanks, Stephen! That “immunity” is all too easy to come by.